Shrek the Musical – New Wimbledon Theatre, London

Book and Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Director: Nigel Harman
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman

Big, bold and irreverent, Shrek the Musical translates the hit 2001 film into a slick, superbly staged musical romp that entertains family and adult audiences alike.

The musical largely follows the same narrative as the film, albeit with some tweaks and a bit of backstory for the central characters. Shrek (Dean Chisnall) is an antisocial ogre who just wants to be left alone, but is stirred to action when Lord Farquaad (Gerard Carey) evicts all of the fairytale characters and resettles them in his swamp. With the hyperactive Donkey (Idriss Kargbo) as his guide, Shrek travels to Duloc to demand Farquaad gives him back his home, and ultimately makes a deal: he will rescue a princess in exchange for the deeds to the swamp. Shrek and Donkey rescue Fiona (Bronté Barbé) from a tower guarded by a capricious dragon, then fall in love on the journey back to her supposed wedding. Ideas about what beauty really is are challenged, and ultimately there is an (alternative) fairytale happy ending.

The cast is strong across the board, with excellent voices, cracking dance moves and a plethora of lightning-quick costume changes. Chisnall, who is reprising the titular role, is a wonderful Shrek: likeable and funny with surprising moments of pathos. Barbé is a feisty Fiona, with a strong voice and a twinkle in her eye, and works beautifully with Chisnall, forging a believable rapport. Gerard Carey absolutely steals the show as Lord Farquaad – a man with a chronic case of “short man syndrome” – having the audience alternately in the palm of his hand and rolling in the aisles. Kargbo is somewhat disappointing as Donkey, harnessing none of the charm of the film character and evincing only his more irritating qualities. Partly this is in the writing: this Donkey has little in the way of the interactions of his cinematic counterpartand becomes a functional character rather a loveable sidekick who begins to break down Shrek’s barriers. That said, Kargbo moves extremely well and has buckets of energy.

The songs themselves are enjoyable, pleasant, but ultimately fairly forgettable. There is not really a memorable, catchy tune you will be humming on your way out of the theatre, however, there are some stand-out numbers in terms of choreography and execution, and the best moments always involve the ensemble cast.

The main theme, Big Bright Beautiful World is well sung, and reprised at meaningful moments throughout. The Shrek-Fiona duetI Think I Got You Beatis very funny, expertly performed by Chisnall and Barbé, and serves to deepen the characters’ relationship as they find they have much common ground. Freak Flag is one of the catchiest numbers, and gives the supporting cast a chance to shine – in particular Nikki Bentley who showcases her outstanding voice. The real show-stopper is the spectacular Welcome to Duloc/What’s Up, Duloc?: Carey is eye-wateringly hilarious as Lord Farquaad, and the stunning staging and incredible choreography make this the show’s most enjoyable scene.

The real stars of the show are Tim Hatley’s superlative set, costumes and puppets: Hatley won a Tony Award for his work on the original production, which could not be more deserved. The sheer style of his production is staggering, and every tiny touch magnificently realised. Dragon is breath-taking, an enormous puppet operated by three puppeteers and with spectacular vocals courtesy of Candace Furbert – arguably the best vocalist in the production.

All in all, this is an enjoyable production for both children and adults. At times it drags a little, and there could be some trimming of the expositionary songs and a bit more of the comedy, but the bits that are good are so good that these lulls can be forgiven. Heart-warming, entertaining and spectacular: it’s time to go green!

Runs until 31 January 2016 | Image: Helen Maybanks

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